‘Rogue Manchester bus service’ exposing passengers to COVID-19 risk

Passengers on Go North West’s ‘rogue bus service’ are being forced onto dangerously overcrowded buses, risking their health and all residents in Greater Manchester.

Over 400 members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, are currently on all-out strikes, after Go North West, brutally fired and rehired the workers and forced them onto inferior pay and conditions. The workers who currently earn on average £24,000 a year, will be £2,500 a year worse off. The strike action began on Sunday 28 February.

Rather than return to the negotiating table and seek an agreement to avoid strike action, the company decided to instead operate a ‘rogue bus service’.

It has moved many of its buses out of its Queens Road depot and is also using buses supplied by non-union companies including Selwyns and Belle Vue coaches. The company is also bringing in drivers from many other parts of the country, including Cumbria, to drive its ‘rogue service’.

Last week Unite wrote to Andy Burnham the mayor of Greater Manchester raising serious concerns about Go North West’s ‘rogue bus service’, raising issues about the lack of driver safety screens, bringing in drivers from outside Manchester and overcrowding. Unite warned that all these matters would increase the transmission of COVID-19 in Greater Manchester.

Under the rules established in Greater Manchester to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, single-decker buses are restricted to 18 passengers, with no one allowed to stand. The photo and video evidence obtained by Unite, reveals that there were up to 44 people on just one bus being operated by ‘the rogue bus service’ many of whom were standing.

The concern about the transmission of COVID-19 have been further heightened as a mutation of the Kent variant of COVID-19 has been discovered in north Manchester, necessitating mass testing in several areas.

Unite regional secretary Ritchie James said: “Before Go North West launched its ‘rogue bus service’, Unite warned that it risked the health of, drivers, passengers and all Greater Manchester residents.

“Just days after the launch of the ‘rogue service’ those warnings have been proved to be all too true.

“The pictures of overcrowded buses are shocking, there is no social distancing and there is a huge risk of COVID being transmitted on these overcrowded buses.

“Rules preventing overcrowding are there for a reason and yet Go North West has chosen to ignore them.

“This is now a public health crisis and local politicians in Manchester must act immediately to ensure that the rogue bus service is suspended immediately and does not resume until measures are introduced to prevent the public health of everyone in Greater Manchester being placed at risk.

“The safest alternative and the most sensible solution would be for Go North West to cancel its fire and rehire policy, allowing fresh negotiations to take place. Bus drivers could then return to work and a safe service could resume.”

“It was Go North West that walked away from negotiations in January and it is in their hands to return to the negotiations and end the danger now faced by its passengers and local residents.”